Delegation for Results

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One attendee of one of my training sessions brought me an interesting dilemma. “My boss drives me crazy doing everything herself,” she said, adding: “You might think I’d be glad, but I want to help. Delegation does more than just free up her time, it gives ME the chance to learn something new, cross train, and get exposure. Plus, who is going to do the supervising if she is busy doing the work? I haven’t had a performance appraisal in two years, and the list of things she is hoping to ‘get around to’ gets longer and longer.”

Maybe you believe, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” But consider what other things . . . things ONLY YOU can do are not being accomplished as you busily do this thing someone else could do, and ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Delegation is somewhat of an art that requires skill to do effectively. William Oncken Junior popularized an analogy that the “monkey on your back” is the next step in a job, and that true delegation means you put the monkey on someone else’s back. Ineffective delegators try to delegate the task but keep the monkey to control the process.

Have you experienced ineffective delegation where someone:

  • micromanages you,
  • insists you follow specific step-by-step instructions
  • watches over your shoulder
  • demands an unnecessarily tight deadline
  • forgets they asked you to do it
  • redoes it once you turned it in
  • criticizes how you did it, or
  • takes it back?

Consider all the benefits of delegation. Can you reap those benefits if you are holding onto the monkey? Are you freeing up your time or building trust and skill in the one you are delegate to?

This 5-step process will get the monkey off your back while ensuring good results and promoting morale and a good work ethic.

Step 1: Choose the right person – my boss tends to delegate to the team lead who does great work but is already so busy. I wish she would give me the chance to do more interesting work and make a contribution. Plus the team lead is starting to burn out.

Step 2: Delegate result, not process­ – Is there only one right way to do some jobs? Or may there be some flexibility in the way an individual can get to that result? Allowing for maximum flexibility fosters buy-in and ownership.

The way to go about this is to delegate the result not the process. People are so proud of their processes. You hear people talking about how they cook Turkey or get to the airport or set up a spreadsheet. Why do we love our processes so much? They’re ours. We thought of and perfected them ourselves, they work great, and we were the ones who did it! When we delegate the process, we deny people that ability.

How do you delegate the result instead of the process? Start by being clear about the result required. Show an example , paint a picture, or use an analogy—do your best to give specifications and a vision of what the correct result looks like. Are you allowed to give instruction when you are delegating in this new way—yes! I challenge you, though, to give them only what they need to know to do the job, not everything you want them to do step-by-step the way you would do it. A participant in one of my time management workshops told me her brother had moved in with her temporarily, and when she tried to micromanage the way he folded towels he told her, “You can either have the towels folded the way you would fold them or you can have me fold them.” Most of us could use a little help letting go of the need for it to be done our way. There is not enough time to do everything anyway—let alone perfectly.

Step 3: Allow maximum flexibility – Ownership and buy in come from clearly defining the desired result and giving them as much flexibility as you can while still accomplishing the result.

Do you know anyone who gets paid to do a job, but they still complain about it? People don’t complain about having to do their own jobs; they complain about having to do someone else’s, so what if we made it theirs? How much more would they care about it? How much pride would they take in it? Isn’t this what they call buy in? Who knows, you may also end up with a better way of doing it.

Dr. Stephen Covey said, “Trust is the greatest human motivator.” Following the first three steps establishes trust, but don’t we need to inspect the work to insure it’s done right? Absolutely. How do we do that without destroying the trust we build?

Step 4: Preset incremental deadlines – If you set up in advance that you will meet at specific intervals with specific expectations, it will just be a part of the contract and won’t feel like you are checking up or micromanaging.

Step 5: Follow up with questions – In other words, when you check back, let them do the talking.